The period of the Enlightenment is dated to the middle of the eighteenth century and is primarily about the changes in the worldview of European culture. The term Enlightenment refers to a series of changes in European thought and writings. When writers, philosophers, and scientists of the eighteenth century referred to their activities as the Enlightenment, they meant that they were breaking from the past and replacing the obscurity, darkness, and ignorance of European thought with the light of truth.
One distinct development in Enlightenment thought was the scientific revolution. Throughout history it has been evident that man has tried, to some degree, to enhance his understanding of the known universe. However, it is during the scientific revolution that there was a change in the structure of man s thought itself. We associate this revolution with natural science and technological change but in European thought, systematic doubt, empirical and sensory verification, the abstraction of human knowledge into separate sciences, and the view that the world functions as a machine entered the arena. Consequently, the Scientific Revolution paved the way for the Enlightenment by shaping the modern mind.
The main ideas of the Enlightenment are as follows: the universe is fundamentally rational, that is, it can be understood through the use of reason alone; Truth can be arrived at through empirical observation, the use of reason, and systematic doubt; Human experience is the foundation of human understanding of truth; authority is not to be preferred over experience; All human life, both social and individual, can be understood in the same way the natural world can be understood; once understood, human life, both social and individual, can be manipulated or engineered in the same way the world can be manipulated or engineered; Human history is largely a history of progress; Human beings can be improved through education and the development of their rational facilities; Religious doctrines have no place in the understanding of the physical and human worlds.
Several key figures of the Enlightenment include Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Rene Descartes, and Blaise Pascal. Thomas Hobbes was the first major thinker of the seventeenth century to apply new methods to the human sciences. His book Leviathan is one of the most revolutionary and influential works on political theory in European History. Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish philosopher living in the Netherlands who applied the new sciences to questions of ethics and philosophy. His most famous work, the Ethics, attempts to use a system of demonstration that begins with certain definitions and draws from these consequent axioms and corollaries. John Locke wrote the Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatises on Government. It focuses on human psychology and cognition. Rene Descartes, perhaps the most single most important thinker of the Enlightenment, wrote Discourse on Method, in which he outlines his skepticism, his method for inquiring into the truth, and his arrival at his famous conclusion (cogito). Blaise Pascal, the other great mind that wrestled with the new universe opening up, confronted this brave new world head on. His work, the Pensees is a loose collection of occasional paragraphs written here and there concerning human knowledge, morals, and the new world humanity was confronted with.
American and French Revolution both occurred during the age of Enlightenment. With the new ideas being conceived of a new world, absolutism had grown tired and illogical. In the case of the absolutism of the monarchs of France as well as the absolutism of England on America, the new way of thinking during the enlightenment gave birth to ideas of self-rule and being able to choose how one is ruled or governed. Many of these ideas are the backbone of culture today. Men, women, different races, and creeds are having more equal opportunities as time passes. The Enlightenment served as a stepping-stone in the greater evolution of humanity s quest toward bettering themselves.